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General PIO Advice

Where did this list come from?

Besides formal training, working missions is the best way to learn PIO skills. It is during missions that the PIO’s skills will be tested by the events, and the wise PIO will be quick to adapt to a rapidly changing situation. In some cases, missions have proved to be the “acid test” of the trade, as it were. Some PIOs rose to fame on a mission, only for the fame to turn to notoriety when the media discovered some flaw and exposed it – sometimes weeks or even months later. Other PIOs didn’t measure up and were smart enough to ask for help. Later, these same PIOs acquired better skills and were able to handle missions better on their own.

The message here is that experience counts, but the better part of experience is the ability to make a quick and accurate self-assessment of one’s own flaws and shortcomings. The list below is a summary of experience gathered in the field, starting in the days before CAP needed to meet FEMA standards, until very recently. It is a compilation of all suggestions offered by PIOs on the PAO Forum in answer to someone asking for advice about how to do well during a USAF SAR Evaluation.

The advice, presented in no particular order

Besides the PIO section on this USAF Instruction * (the PIO section starts on p. 64), you must also watch out for the tricks they like to play when they act as mean and hostile media reps demanding more information, by hook or by crook. Basically,

  1. Prepare and distribute a pre-event news release.
  2. Get a team together, including one or more trainees. If you have qualified cadets (18 or older), include one or two.
  3. Make yourself appropriate business cards with your grade/name, title, cell phone and email address. Use the unit emblem on it.
  4. Be sure to wear a very visible PIO badge. Make yourself one, with the wing seal, your grade/name and PUBLIC INFORMATION written as large as will fit.
  5. If you have the space, prepare a separate media area with whatever amenities you can offer, even with Internet access if possible.
  6. Make sure the PIO is included in all briefings (at least one at the beginning of every duty cycle). Have it in writing, so you deliver the same presentation every time. The evaluators will want to see you in action as you prepare your mission crew to handle outsiders, lead them to the PIO, and what procedures you have set up for handling them. Give everyone your cell number (if service is available).
  7. Post your cell number at the security checkpoint(s) so it will be easy for security to find you when outsiders arrive. If no cell phone service is available, get a portable radio issued to you.
  8. Consider getting HAM radio operators to work with you, so you’ll be able to reach the outside world when the evaluators cut off all municipal power and Internet access. Make the evaluators aware of this, even if they decide not to cut off the power.
  9. Prepare “mission kits” to give out to the media.
  10. Have a “war kit” with all needed forms, media lists, and handouts.
  11. Know where the chaplain and/or CISM person will be. In an evaluation, there probably will be one or more “relatives” who’ll behave erratically, illogically, and insistently, wanting what they can’t have. Make sure you have a plan to handle them.
  12. Make sure security is on the ball. Just because someone is wearing a USAF uniform, security must still check ID before granting that person access to the area.
  13. Set up a “citizen’s call” phone line. You might get some fake calls; be sure you know how to handle them.
  14. Prepare a place where you can have a fake press conference, where the USAF evaluators will be the “media” – hostile or otherwise.
  15. Be prepared to issue frequent news releases, post them to multimedia and the wing website, and also on the ICP. Give a copy to the evaluators.
  16. Arrange for frequent operational updates from the ICP.
  17. Make sure the IC will be available to you.
  18. If you can stir up media interest, try to get the NOC to authorize a media flight. This will work out well for media relations.
  19. While the mission is on, you’ll be evaluated at all times. Act professionally and get the job done.
  20. If media show up, arrange for interesting outside action shots, with cadets if possible. People at desks and status charts are not very exciting. Avoid taking photos of people looking at the camera; action shots are best.
  21. Also, if media show up, have someone escort them everywhere and stay with them.
  22. If no media representatives show up, go into the TV production business. Record an interview with attractive, knowledgeable members, including a sharp cadet, then send it to the TV stations (all of them) for their use. Some might air it.
  23. Be polite. Offend no one.
  24. Never use the forbidden word “crash.” Instead, speak of “the scene” or “the overdue aircraft.”
  25. Never repeat a question posed by “hostile media,” as it will usually be mean. If you repeat what they asked, they could use your “repeat” out of context for your “statement.”
  26. Never speculate. Do not be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out for you.”
  27. Never say, “No comment.” Instead, say, “Are there any more questions?”
  28. If there are fatalities (or the possibility thereof), do not laugh for any reason. Stay in role, be compassionate, but don’t gush or emote.
  29. If they ask something negative, never address it. Instead, emphasize the positive, without even mentioning their negative point at all.
  30. Be firm without being pushy.
  31. Do not be afraid to pause to collect your thoughts. But make sure your answer is a good one – and tight enough so they can’t use it against you.
  32. (Prior to the press briefing or interview) If you can, discourage the IC from making a statement. If the IC makes a gross error, the IC would have no deniability. If you do, the IC could rectify it later and the mission would be covered.
  33. It is OK to have subject matter experts (SMEs) with you when you meet the press, and turn to them (one or more) for an answer. Just make sure they know how to speak in public, don’t ramble, are able to keep to the point, and shut up when they’re done. If anyone has a tendency to hog the podium, try your best not to use that one.
  34. For best results, prepare your presentation ahead of time, write a news release using that material, distribute the release before the presentation, then read the news release to the media. If it’s an interview, ask for questions and don’t get off the material you gave them.
  35. If they ask about something you are not prepared to discuss, and there are rumors to that effect, say, “That is an unconfirmed rumor. If it can be verified, of course we’ll take it into consideration.”
  36. If they ask about something that involves another agency’s work, you might say, “We are not authorized to discuss this, as it involves an ongoing investigation,” or, “We are not the lead agency for that mission.” Then direct them to the other agency.
  37. If they ask you a surprise question that you know nothing about, say, “I will look into that.” – Alternatively, if you have SMAs with you, look at them to see if they know (or can talk) about it. If not, stick to “I’ll look into that.”
  38. Never promise anything you cannot deliver.
  39. Think on your feet. If saying something might compromise your position, give away reserved information, or come back to haunt you, don’t say it. Silence can be, indeed, golden.
  40. RULE – Answer only what is asked, then shut up. Only expand on it if it would bolster an earlier statement you made, or enhance your position.
  41. Use common sense, keeping in mind that PIOs, the same as PAOs, need to protect “the image and assets of the corporation.”
  42. Always announce when the next briefing/interview will be conducted.
  43. Consider using multimedia news broadcasting, such as * or * posting them on your wing’s page.
  44. Post your news releases on your wing website, as well as on appropriate social media. Including appropriate (and officially cleared) images will be a plus.
  45. Keep your cool.

NOTE: Make no mistake. CAP-USAF expects CAP PIOs to be trained to FEMA/USAF standards.

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Last updated: 09/14/15

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